When you’re preparing for a job interview, the number one piece of advice you hear is bound to be “research the company.” Having at least a working knowledge of the company allows you to articulate why you want to work there, and how you can best meet their needs. Doing your research ahead of time also allows you to develop insightful questions to ask the interviewer, something that many candidates fail to do very well.
While doing research is certainly necessary, believe it or not there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Focusing on the wrong information, looking in the wrong places, and failing to leverage the information you find not only makes your research a waste of time, but it can actually hurt you. Even if you’ve taken advantage of your university’s professional development services while earning a degree in accounting and attended interview preparation workshops, if you don’t know your stuff — or use your knowledge inappropriately — you interview could be a bust. Therefore, when you’re researching, avoid these mistakes.
1. Focusing Too Much on Minutia
Most interviewers aren’t looking for a recitation of key facts about their company. Therefore, having a general idea of the company’s history, structure, and major goals and achievements is great. Being a walking encyclopedia is unnecessary. When you focus on the minutia, you lose sight of the bigger picture, which is being able to articulate what you can bring to the table and why you are uniquely suited for the position and would fit in within the company.
Too much research on company details can also backfire during the interview. You might think that it shows your interest in the firm to show off your knowledge, or even worse, ask questions related to negative reviews or feedback you found online, but you could annoy the interviewer or put him or her on the defensive. Don’t go digging for dirt on the company; if there is a major issue that the interview wants your insight on, he or she will ask for it.
2. Googling the Interviewer
Many people like to know as much as possible about the person they will be interviewing with, to help ease some anxiety and to help better tailor their responses. However, there is a distinct line when it comes to researching individuals within the firm, and crossing it can take you from “professional” to “stalker” territory fairly quickly. You can generally find everything you need to know by looking at someone’s LinkedIn profile, professional bio on the company website, and by checking out any blogs or other media they contribute to. You do not need to look up their personal Facebook page or run an exhaustive Google search. After all, how would you feel if a virtual stranger asked you how you enjoyed your recent dinner at a local restaurant or the latest bestseller, information that they would only know by looking at your profile?
Social sites like Twitter can be a good tool to gain insight on their personality. In fact many recruiters use twitter today so it can be another way to augment your research.
3. Using Only the Company Website
Corporate websites are useful for researching information, but they aren’t the only source. Depending on the firm, the website might offer limited insight into the culture, values, and priorities of the company. Look to other sources in addition to the website, like LinkedIn, corporate social media feeds, and industry journals. Remember, not all companies have a dedicated team focused on updating their website, so you may be missing important information when you don’t expand your search. Consider looking up ex-employees and contacting them to get their feedback. Linkedin in a great way to find these company "alumni".
TIP: There are 2 good sites to do additional homework on the company. Glassdoor features reviews by current and former employees and Indeed has a company forum section with similar info. Just be sure to take what you learn on these sites with a "grain of salt". They often are not the full truths about the company.
4. Forgetting to Research Competitors
Not only should you have an understanding of the company you’re interviewing with, you should also understand where it fits within the industry and what challenges it’s facing from the competition. Looking at competitors also helps you to better articulate why you want to work for that particular company.
One caveat: Unless you’re specifically asked about your impressions or experiences with another firm, you should never overtly compare the firm you’re interviewing with to another one. And of course, never say anything negative about the competition.
5. Focusing on the Negative
Even if you’re interviewing with your dream firm, one with a squeaky-clean reputation, you are bound to find something negative about it somewhere. When you do, put the negative information into context, and do not let it cloud your perceptions or influence the questions you choose to ask. Again, while you want to show that you’ve done your homework, you never want to put an interviewer on the defensive.
Doing research ahead of time is vital to a successful job interview. When you focus on the right things, and use your findings to better position yourself, you increase the chance of landing a job offer — and the opportunity to put all of that research to work.